It’s always been true that pleasing your customers is at the core of a successful business, but we are in a new era when it comes to meeting customers’ expectations. What people consider an exceptional customer experience — and which experiences are worth paying more for — are changing at an unprecedented pace.
Part of this is likely driven by the world-changing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only disrupted everything but gave people a year to really consider how they want to live from now on, even when the threat is over. One business example comes from Verizon, which is changing how it thinks about in-store support, now focusing much more on self-service and shared screens so that customers can feel more comfortable getting help from retail assistants without getting physically too close to them.
Losing customers isn’t the only concern; it’s also about failing to grow. To that end, the benefits of implementing an effective approach to the customer journey can be startling — more than six times greater growth in year-on-year profitability, in fact.
One proven way to generate and implement these types of innovative experiences, even in the midst of a crisis, is through journey maps and design sprints. Journey mapping occurs when you listen to your customers and uncover the moments in the experience that make or break that experience. This leads to innovative ideas, which you can flesh out using design sprints and get them to a granular enough level for implementation.
Sprinting Toward Success
Incorporating journey mapping and design sprints into your workflow effectively is worth the effort if you want to create deeper customer engagement. Here are a few tips as you get started.
1. Develop a customer journey map and keep it updated
Everything must begin with understanding what your customers experience when they use your products or services. This can’t just be from your company’s point of view — such as what time of day customers visit your store — but from the customer point of view. For example, a certain customer may be a parent and so they can only visit your store in their free time between daycare and work. Understanding that can allow you to consider promotions for parents or sales pitched when school is known to be out of session.
In all cases, the focus should be on asking what problem your customers are trying to solve and why they want to solve that problem. Don’t look at it from your point of view; seek to understand theirs. By adopting that perspective, you can be sure that what you are designing aligns with the customers’ values and stands the greatest chance of creating excitement, interest, and delight in your product — not to mention brand loyalty.
2. Test with users early and often, even when the ideas are ugly
Proper user testing is foundational to getting things right, so be sure to incorporate user testing into everything — every part of the ideation, design, prototyping, and implementation. Even a small sample A/B test can show you which ideas have promise and which should be tossed away. And be sure to do this early: Testing fully formed and developed ideas is too late. So before you settle on an idea, bring users in and listen to their feedback.
There are so many new avenues available to engage with users and stress test new ideas that weren’t in play 20 years ago. Just look at how Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Twitter, is using his platform to elicit feedback on a hardware Bitcoin wallet — and asking some big-picture questions — before they settle on requirements, much less begin designing the physical product.
3. Formalize how you engage with customers
It’s a great idea to casually elicit and solicit customer opinions, but it’s not enough. Instead, seek new ways to formalize this process. The good news is, today’s technology often makes that task easy and will seem very natural to your customers, many of whom are already ardent digital technology users.
For example, many organizations now have insider groups, such as sports equipment company REI, which started as an email push eliciting feedback but has grown into much more. Now, more than 5,000 of its customers are serving as “REI advisors” and the company also has launched a Reddit-style forum on its site. Nike is also working with this new model of customer feedback, asking real customers to test its physical products, as I found out when I recently signed up my son for Nike’s product testing program.
It’s clear that customer expectations are changing and will continue to change rapidly. Old processes simply aren’t up to the task of creating the types of experiences that customers are craving. You need to deeply understand the customer’s experience from their point of view, engage them early in your design process, and listen to their changing needs regularly.